PROS / Vocational career with excellent salary with continuing education opportunities.
CONS / Ceiling on advancement opportunities about mid-career for radiology technicians.
VERDICT / Stable job with more advanced technologies coming out all the time.
Radiology technicians have one of the highest average starting salaries of the vocational careers we reviewed. There are also excellent opportunities for advancement within the industry because of the variety of disciplines within medical radiology in which you can specialize.
The starting salary for this vocational career averages around $39,600 annually with the potential to make about $75,400 annually with just an associate's degree, although your salary will depend on your location. For example, rurally based hospitals are likely to offer lower salaries than urban-based ones. Insurance benefits are often provided in addition to wages.
States with the highest salary for his profession include Massachusetts, Nevada and Maryland, which average between $65,820 and $68,530 annually. States with some of the highest concentration of individuals in this profession include West Virginia, South Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee and Rhode Island. Specialty hospitals, such as cancer treatment centers, are one of the highest paying industries that employ individuals in this field.
There are approximately 215,000 radiology technicians in the United States today, and 68,000 jobs in this field are expected to open in the next 10 years.
Although certification requirements in this profession vary from state to state, radiology technicians certify with the American Registry of Radiological Technologists (ARRT) through a college or university that sponsors the certification. Recertification with the ARRT typically requires the completion of 24 continuing education credits every two years, and many hospitals pay for at least a portion of the recertification requirements. Individuals who do well in math, physics, chemistry and biology do well in this profession.
You can specialize in this field by becoming certified in a specific discipline such as an ultrasound technician (also known as a medical sonographer) or a mammography technician.
Another specialization in this field includes administering tests such as barium swallows or fluoroscopies where nonradioactive materials are placed into a patient's digestive tract or bloodstream for diagnostic purposes. Individuals who take pictures of the heart in this method are called cardiovascular technologists.
Computer tomographers (CT technologists) perform CT scans, which produce a substantial amount of cross-sectional x-rays of an area of the body. From these shots, a three-dimensional image is made.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technologists produce multiple two-dimensional shots of an area of the body which, combined create a three-dimensional image. Unlike CT scans which use ionizing radiation, MRIs use a non-ionizing radio frequency.
Individuals in this profession are typically called technicians when they work with x-ray equipment, where technologists use other equipment such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and mammography. Diversity in a number of specializations in this industry makes you more marketable.
Individuals in this profession usually reach the ceiling on their salary potential by about mid-career, but advanced technologies are coming out in this field all the time which will provide additional opportunities for training and career development. The steep recertification requirements in this profession are necessary because of the frequent developments in the technology they work with. New, more accurate x-ray devices, CAT scanners and other scanning equipment require that staff get retrained periodically.
Most individuals in this vocational career work in a hospital, although many physician's offices and clinics have some medical radiological services in-house for which they employ individuals. Although it is doctors who review x-rays and other radiological tests to identify a problem such as a broken bone or internal bleeding, individuals in this field must know enough about what the doctor is looking for to be able to take accurate pictures of the area of concern with the radiological equipment. Taking an x-ray, for example, requires taking a picture of the correct part of the body at an angle where distress can be accurately seen. Usually shots at multiple angles are taken.
Radiology technicians do not discuss possible diagnoses with patients, but instead leave that to doctors to handle. Instead, individuals in this profession prepare written reports of their findings to accompany x-ray films. The reports assist doctors in reviewing the x-rays as well as in the diagnosis process.
An excellent bedside manner, or the ability to put patients at ease, is helpful in this vocational career, as individuals in this profession will need to ascertain from patients the location and level of the pain they are experiencing. For emergency room patients in particular, individuals need to be able to assess whether patients' pain is increasing.
Individuals in this field often work in a hospital where multiple shifts are available, such as day shifts, night shifts, swing shifts and weekend shifts. Sometimes they work part-time for more than one hospital or clinic. Because of this flexibility, this career track is attractive to individuals who are raising families or who are pursuing additional education. It is also popular among individuals who make career shifts after working for years in another profession.
Radiology technicians must wear vests embedded with lead to protect them from radiation. Exposure to radiation over time is a risk in this profession, although many measures are taken to prevent this. For some tests, such as ultrasounds, they also wear protective gloves. They also must be able to see detail at close range when looking at computer monitors and x-rays.
Individuals in this vocational career are often on their feet for long periods of time. Additionally, they need to be able to lift 50 pounds or more in order to move or transport patients.
Basic Office Skills Required
Email is a major function of individuals in this profession. They will draft reports in MS Word on a regular basis and also work with spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. They need to be able to manage multiple tasks to meet deadlines.
The radiology technician profession is a very attractive vocational career because of its substantial starting salary, projected growth in the industry in the next ten years, stable career qualities and opportunities for continuing education. Individuals who enjoy working with people and like staying on the cutting edge of technology do well in this field.
A Radiology Technician's Typical Work Day
Gina became a radiology technician three years ago. She became interested in the vocational career path when she learned how quickly it got her certified and into a substantial, good-paying job. She also needed the flexible hours the job offered in order to be home with her children.
At the radiology department at her local hospital, Gina performs x-rays on patients from the emergency room, patients that have been admitted into the hospital, as well as scheduled patients from doctor's offices. She makes sure patients are not wearing any metal that would interfere with the x-ray, and she positions the part of the body so that accurate pictures can be taken of the perceived injury.
After an x-ray, she prepares a report for the doctor regarding findings she has observed. Much of the report includes the dialog she has with patients before or during the x-ray. She is careful to ask questions from the patients themselves about where they feel the most pain, how they would rate their pain on a scale from 1 to 10, how long they have experienced pain and whether the pain is sharp or dull. In addition, she observes coloring of the skin and if inflammation appears to be present.
For Gina's radiology technician recertification every two years, she needs to either complete continuing education credits or get certified in another specialty within the radiology field. A year ago she completed the ultrasound technician certification, and now she is working on mammography. She likes learning new skills that make her more valuable to her hospital, and she also likes the increase in her salary.
She now uses both her x-ray and ultrasound certifications in her vocational career. Since there are only a handful of technicians at her hospital who are certified to do ultrasounds, Gina trades schedules with three others in the radiology department to make sure they have adequate coverage. One of them is there until 9 p.m. each night.
Expectant mothers make up a majority of her ultrasound patients. She can really identify with them, since she has been one herself. Her favorite part of the procedure, of course, is being able to tell a patient if the baby is a boy or a girl.
It is always difficult when she finds problems on an ultrasound or x-ray that a patient may not have been expecting. Since she is not authorized to discuss such problems with patients, she has developed a good poker face. Usually she gives patients a wishy-washy thumbs-up or thumbs-down. If she sees a serious problem that the doctor may not have suspected, she is assertive about notifying the doctor by phone. Gina takes careful notes of the x-rays and ultrasounds she performs so that doctors can assist individuals in diagnosing the conditions they have and in prescribing effective treatments.
Gina loves being a radiology technician. She enjoys the exactness needed to perform an x-ray or ultrasound, and she likes preparing reports for doctors. She loves being an expert about something, but she also likes having a vocational career where she can go home at the end of the day and be a regular mom.